Ben HaywardDecember 2nd

The Labour Party is urging the government to stagger the return of university students to campuses in January to avoid coronavirus spikes the likes of which were seen in September. 

Under proposed plans, Labour says those on placements and whose face-to-face teaching is essential should be first to come back in the new year after universities saw hundreds of students testing positive for Covid-19 within the first few weeks of the autumn semester. 

The government has advised that students in England should head home for Christmas during the seven-day so-called ‘travel window’ between December 3rd and 9th, with a programme of mass testing now underway at most universities.

Students have been asked to take two of the ‘lateral flow’ swab tests, - that provide results within an hour, communicated by email or text - three days apart, with negative results meaning they can travel home. 

However, guidance is yet to be published for going back following the festive break. 

In a letter to universities minister Michelle Donelan, the shadow minister for universities, Emma Hardy wrote: “The government have said nothing about the return of students to universities in January.

“This urgently needs to be addressed to ensure the movement of almost two million students across the UK does not lead to spikes in infection rates of the kind seen in September.

“The government was late in realising there was a crisis in September, and it is deeply concerning that your department does not appear to have learned from this experience.”

Ms Donelan has said the government will look to utilise mass testing again in the new year to ensure the return to higher education is as safe as possible.

However, Ms Hardy has urged that guidance be published ‘without delay’ to give universities time to organise. “The government should adopt Labour's call to stagger their return and work with universities to deliver this,” she added. 

A government spokesperson said: "We understand this has been a very difficult time for students, which is why we have prioritised their education and wellbeing from the start of this pandemic, by supporting universities to provide a blend of online and in-person learning in a Covid-secure way.

"We have set out plans, delivering on our commitment to enable students to return home for the Christmas holidays while minimising the risk of transmission.

"We will provide further guidance in due course on the spring term, which will look to use mass testing on offer and consider the latest scientific advice."

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